With three days of tax-free shopping for school supplies and clothes starting Friday, one day after the state's party primaries, guess where Tennessee's millionaire governor went Wednesday.
Retailers Target in Memphis, Wal-Mart in Chattanooga and Knoxville and Kmart in Johnson City. Although a sure winner in the Democratic primary, the opportunity to talk about Tennessee's first tax holiday aimed at saving shoppers money was too much for Gov. Phil Bredesen to pass up.
Speaking from behind a table loaded with shirts, slacks, dresses, shoes, marking pens, notebooks, glue and various computers at a Wal-Mart in Chattanooga, the governor said families spending on average more than $500 for back to school will see a benefit of about $50.
"I think this is going to be a meaningful contribution," he said of the savings to shoppers.
The tax holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Another one-time tax holiday is set for April.
Bredesen, who made his fortune in the health care business and does not have school-age children or grandchildren to buy for, said the timing of the tax holiday has "nothing to do with" the Thursday primary voting.
He said the tax holiday he promised while campaigning in 2002 is projected to reduce annual sales tax revenue by about $11 million and was made possible by the state's improved financial condition. Bredesen said the holiday helps "families who really need it." Bredesen said he was not ready to consider any other tax breaks, such as reducing the sales tax on food.
Tennessee is among 13 states and Washington, D.C., with sales tax holidays for back-to-school shoppers. The holiday was adopted in 2005, but delayed until officials decided the state could afford it.
The package exempts from state and local sales tax purchases items of clothing or individual school supplies that cost less than $100 or personal computers under $1,500 each.
Tennessee's state sales tax is 7% and local governments are allowed to levy up to 2.75 percent. The combined 9.75 percent represents nearly $1 on every $10 in purchases.
Annette Benford left the Wal-Mart pushing a buggy of groceries Wednesday, accompanied by a 5-year-old grandson, Darious Hicks.
Benford said she would be buying school supplies and clothing for four grandchildren Friday, likely spending more than $100 while also trying to avoid the likely crowd. "I'll be here at 1 a.m. Friday," Benford said. "That's how grandmas have to manage things."